“Who am I?”

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My students, especially the younger ones, asked that we explore the question of “Who am I?” One mentioned feeling like Alice in Wonderland with the caterpillar.

We will continue on with this topic next week, but to start I offered something that still resonates with me. It is from Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher generally credited as the founder of Taoism. On retreat at Spirit Rock many years ago, one morning, at the end of our first meditation of the day, Mark Coleman read this poem to us. It felt like an electric charge, and many attendees posted requests for the poem to be put on the communal bulletin board. Mark complied within a few hours. Silently, we all gathered at the board to copy the words down in our notebooks. What a gift. It was like a jewel of insight, with the clarity of the finest diamond. And like a diamond, it has not diminished but shines brightly every time I read it.

It seemed to have the same effect on my students. They had me read it to them three times. Please give yourself the gift of full attention as you read it:

Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time
it will turn out.

This is it.
No one else has the answer,
no other place will be better,
and it has already turned out. 

At the center of your being,
you have the answer:
you know who you are and
you know what you want.
There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window. 

Rather abide at the center of your being:
for the more you leave it,
the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
the way to do is to be.  — Lao Tzu

After you have read it through enough times to let it sink in, pause, abide at the center of your being and answer the questions only you can answer:

“Who am I?”

“What do I want?”

In class, after students took time to write down their answers, whoever felt moved to do so, shared what had come up for them. Each student’s sharing spoke deeply to another, and all the resonating from the poem and the sharing made for a very rich tear-filled and heart-felt class. I hope you will give yourself time to reread the poem as often as you want and to allow yourself to ask the questions and answer them. You might discover you have different answers every day! Explore. 

We will continue this exploration in the next class, and dharma post, but for now I’ll end with the advice that Ranier Maria Rilke gave in his letters to a young poet:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Ranier Maria Rilke, (1875-1926 — He is considered the greatest poet of modern Germany.)


  1. I’m so bummed I missed this class. That poem and the experience the group shared sounds amazing. Hope to see you again next week! Namaste and may you be well. – xoxo mmm

    Liked by 1 person

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